The Black Bears of Alligator River, North Carolina

Last month, I drove down to Alligator River, North Carolina to search for wild American black bears. In the process, I made this short documentary about my search for these awesome animals. (Sorry; this is kind of cheating as far as blog posts go, but I had to post something).

Please watch the video below. If you like bears, and you want to see one on the US east coast, you’ll love this video. It’s just under 5 minutes, so it gets right to the point.

Warning: I say, “Damn” and “badass” in the video, so you might not want young children to see it.


In Dare County, North Carolina, a bastion for American black bears is hidden in plain sight. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge hosts one of the largest concentrations of black bears on the U.S. east coast. In this episode, I’ll go looking for these bears on an American safari.

Getting around the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge is simple. There are multiple dirt roads and tracks that allow you to drive around the refuge’s 150,000 acres, and you don’t even need a 4×4. The best places to search for bears are around the crop fields and canals. Last time I was here, I spotted an old bear bathing in one of the canals.

[I miss my Land Rover, but it’s pretty badass offroading in a freakin’ Honda CR-V.]

On the refuge’s back roads, I have not seen a bear, but I have seen their tracks and scat (their poop) scattered about in the area. In the dense forests, it is much harder to spot a bear, but they’re definitely around. Scanning the dense vegetation, I keep my eyes peeled for movement.

[I get lost, etc., etc. End up on Navy bombing range. Oh crap.]

I hastily make my way away from the U.S. Navy Bombing Range back towards the crop fields. Year round, the bears are drawn to the crop fields, and they—along with lack of hunting pressures and human presence–are likely a primary reason behind the thriving bear populations.

[Find bear.]

In the spring and summer, the tall fields of grain and other crops make the bears difficult to find. But, after the harvest season, the crops are gone, and the bears are quite easy to spot.

During this time, the hungry bears are foraging for grain left behind by farmers. Black bears are omnivorous, and in Alligator River, they primarily eat plants and insects.

[See another black bear.]

Black bears are territorial, and they are usually seen alone. However, due to the abundance of food in Alligator River, you are likely to see multiple bears in the same area.

According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Virginia Tech (Yeesh–that’s a mouthful), Alligator River’s black bear population is estimated to be between 180 and 293 bears, with about three bears per square mile on good habitat. By comparison, in other good black bear habitats, a normal population is one bear per square mile. That says a lot about Alligator River.

If you see a bear in the wild, keep your distance. Black bears are not nearly as dangerous to humans as brown bears, but they can still be aggressive when threatened or hungry. Like all animals, they deserve respect.

So, on that note, I ride off into the sunset. Obligatory statement about humanity’s negative impact on the environment, and the positive outcomes of conservation. Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints. You get the idea. Blah, blah, blah. Until next time.

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